Carbon Sequestration in Idaho

Carbon Sequestration marketing is bringing new conservation and economic opportunities to Idaho farmers, ranchers and foresters. Conservation efforts that remove atmospheric greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), and sequester them in the soil will produce credits that can be sold in a new trading exchange. The Idaho Soil and Water Conservation Commission (ISWCC) is leading this effort on behalf of Idaho state landowners and operators.

You may already be using some of the conservation practices that can provide salable credits, or you may be thinking of making some cropping or land use changes. In either case, the annual sale of carbon credits may provide additional income for your operation, and also help the environment.

Sequestration is the capture and storage of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere and thereby helps make life on planet Earth possible. The rising CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, however, has been related to global warming. Carbon sequestration in terrestrial systems is a mechanism to help manage atmospheric CO2 levels. In a given carbon pool (storage reservoir through which carbon cycles) sequestration occurs when carbon intake exceeds carbon losses. Terrestrial ecosystems, including farms, forests and rangelands, have the potential to sequester carbon in the form of plant and animal biomass as well as soil organic matter.

Carbon cycle poster thumbnail; linked to PDF
A poster explaining the Carbon Cycle in a forested site can be found on The Forest Foundation website.

Plants take CO2 from the atmosphere during photosynthesis, emitting oxygen while using the carbon to build biomass—i.e., stems, branches, roots, and leaves—some of which is consumed by animals, another form of biomass. Plants and animals give off CO2 during respiration, and when they die CO2 is released slowly through decomposition or rapidly during combustion as biomass burns. Over time, some carbon from plants and animals enters the soil carbon pool, where it is stored for relatively long periods of time (sequestered).

The Feb., 2003 report of the Idaho Carbon Sequestration Advisory Committee, Carbon Sequestration on Idaho Agricultural and Forest Lands describes Idaho's great potential for both terrestrial and geologic carbon sequestration. ISWCC's Carbon Sequestration fact sheet (and more information on the ISWCC website) describes this exciting new opportunity.

The focus of the Idaho Carbon Sequestration Advisory Committee is:

  1. Outreach to educate Soil Conservation Districts, land owners and operators, legislators, and agency partners about the concept of carbon credit trading;
  2. Pilot Projects for Agricultural, Forestry and Rangeland (terrestrial) sequestration of carbon;
  3. Research Needs that continue to update carbon sequestration measuring protocols, techniques, and modeling;
  4. A Carbon Sequestration Inventory to track Carbon Trading in Idaho.

The Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX)

The Chicago Climate Exchange is North America's only and the world's first global marketplace for integrating voluntary legally binding emissions reductions with emissions-based trading and offsets, for all six greenhouse gases. Landowners and operators will use the services of aggregators to group carbon credits from several suppliers and offer those carbon credits to the market in the form of a portfolio. Aggregators will help determine:

  1. The potential value of the carbon credit along with the practices necessary to achieve that potential;
  2. How those practices can be verified in a cost-effective manner to assess carbon sequestered;
  3. How to market them in the most desirable package for buyers.

The Chicago Climate Exchange has many aggregators in which they draw upon; their website has a list of approved aggregators. One aggregator working in our region to facilitate carbon trades on various land resources is the National Carbon Offset Coalition (NCOC). NCOC is working closely with ranchers in eastern Idaho to put together a carbon trade this spring on several thousand acres of rangeland. The role of the aggregator is critical in determining the success of land management based carbon sequestration projects. NCOC has expressed interest in hosting workshops in other areas of Idaho where land owners and operators might have interest.

Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership The Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership led by Montana State University, is one of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) seven regional partnerships whose purpose is to develop a framework to address carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change. The Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership's (BSCSP) vision is to prepare its member organizations for a possible carbon-constrained economy and enable the region to cleanly use its abundant fossil energy resources and sequestration sinks to support future energy demand and economic growth. The BSCSP will achieve this vision by demonstrating and validating the region's most promising sequestration technologies and creating the infrastructure required to deploy commercial-scale carbon sequestration projects.

Pilot projects in Idaho

Several pilot projects are underway in Idaho. In 2003, the Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association (PNDSA) was the first group in North America to compile and register a listing of direct seed acres available for a Carbon Offset Trade. These acres were contracted to be direct seeded for 10 years and the stored carbon was marketed, in the form of a lease, to an energy company. Growers were paid for their CO2 as an offset to the energy company's emissions. They continue today to lead the charge on independently marketing carbon credit trading in the agricultural sector in the Pacific Northwest.

The Nez Perce tribe, headquartered in Lapwai, Idaho, is the first forest landowner in the state to receive payment for selling carbon credits from forest management activities. The details and procedures of the stewardship actions and requirements for obtaining and selling carbon credits provide a case study for other landowners who may be interested in payments for carbon credits. The Nez Perce example has attracted regional and national attention (see "Trees eat carbon, emit cash," Spokesman-Review, Spokane, WA, Jan. 26, 2007; Sale of carbon credits helping land-rich,but cash-poor, tribe, The New York Times, May 8, 2007).

High Country Resource Conservation & Development Council, Three Rivers RC&D Council, and soil conservation districts in eastern Idaho are in the process of developing a rangeland pilot carbon trade through the CCX. This project will inform ranchers and farmers on how to use their private grazing lands for carbon credits, a commodity sold on the Chicago Climate Exchange. The goal of the project is to collectively reach a minimum of 100,000 metric tons of carbon sequestered in the rangeland soils from eligible landowners. That is roughly equal to approximately 125,000 acres of rangeland in and around eastern Idaho.

The Clearwater RC&D Council is also involved in a potential carbon credit pilot project in north central Idaho, and has recently been approved as a NCOC Affiliate Member. They are using the city of Moscow, Idaho as a pilot to establish inventory procedures and protocol to document carbon credits. The City now has an excellent greenhouse gas emissions inventory as the 2005 baseline, a unanimously-supported City Council resolution adopting a 20% GHG reduction target by 2020, and the Moscow Tree Commission has a web page on Community Forestry and an urban forest inventory that includes information on carbon sequestration and other valuation data for trees in Moscow. It is the hope to eventually aggregate all the communities in Idaho and market the aggregated credits.

In support of these pilot project efforts, the Advisory Committee is currently working directly with the CCX to get a designated cropping region established for future cropland trades in Idaho. As part of this effort the Committee is working with area and regional soil scientists to compile the most up to date soil organic carbon information available to validate this designation. There are several categories of carbon sequestration credits available. CCX has developed protocols for forestry, cropland, rangeland, grassland, methane and others. The NCOC website has more information about these protocols, and applications for:

Map of Idaho showing 14-40" annual precipitation

Carbon Credit Calculator

The Illinois Conservation & Climate Initiative website has a carbon credit calculator that may give an Idaho operator a rough idea as to the quantity of carbon credits on his operation, given various market parameters.

Determining Eligibility

CCX has determined that zones with annual precipitation between 14 and 40 inches best meet the criteria for carbon sequestration. A map of Idaho (2MB PDF) is now available showing eligible areas based on precipitation and land resource regions in the state.

Current carbon credit projects in other states